The Changs live an inconspicuous life in Plano, Texas, Patty, the mother has a demanding job in the tech industry, Liang, the father looks more after the house and their two kids Jack and Annabel. Despite their Chinese background, they assimilate and fit in quite well until misunderstanding sets in motion a chain of events which throws the already fragile family equilibrium totally out of balance.
Simon Han’s novel “Nights When Nothing Happened” tackle different tricky topics such as moving to another country and trying to fit in, finding your identity when you grow up between different cultures, trying to make a living and having a family at the same time and, most of all, dealing with the fragile psyche of a child. Each chapter provides the reader with the perspective of another family member thus underlining that even though you might belong to the same family, there are always things left unsaid because they are unutterable or because you cannot find the words to express yourself, in the case of the children in the novel: because they are too afraid of saying or doing something wrong.
It wasn’t easy for me to sympathise with the characters, they were too far away from my life and unfortunately the novel, though wonderfully narrated, couldn’t bring them closer. Understanding their individual struggles and fears though was easy due to the insight in the characters’ thoughts. Many noteworthy aspects and without any doubt interesting characters, yet, somehow the novel did not really move me.
Emily is looking forward to spending an entire weekend with her busy boyfriend Paolo, even though they will go sailing and sleep on a boat while she cannot swim. But Paolo will take care of her. The trip starts lightly, but she is quickly feeling sick and just after a bit of wine, she falls into a very deep sleep. When she wakes up the next morning, Paolo is gone. He could hardly be fallen overboard, and even if so, he was a coast guard and is a strong swimmer. So: where is he? The police also cannot find any trace and the longer Paolo is absent, the surer Emily gets that he has been murdered. Especially when she is contacted by one of his former colleagues who tells her about strange doings in their lab. But the investigators simply won’t believe her, understandably since in their eyes, she is acting very strangely and with a bipolar disorder, they doubt her sanity. Yet, the question remains: what happened to Paolo?
The fact that the author himself is a psychologist with practical experience can easily be seen in the novel. “And then you were gone” is playing on all facets of the human mind: Emily’s bipolar disorder and the different states she gets in when she forgets to take her pills, but also on question about what you remember and how you remember, different ways of judging a situation depending on with which eyes you look at it. This certainly keeps you alert as a reader and you never really trust any of the characters since you never know what they are up to.
Apart from the psychological aspect, it is also a very classical crime novel in which the capital vices motivate the characters’ actions. Pride and greed drive them to cross borders that are never meant to cross and that make them forget all ethics for fame and reputation. The case is actually not too complicated which makes perfectly sense since the stress is clearly on Emily and her deteriorating mind. There are many different clues to follow and since you only get the story from Emily’s perspective it is quite obvious that she is also missing some. A thriller which did not absolutely make me get goose bumps but that I enjoyed a lot.
Twelve years ago, a stop on a highway changes the life of Finn and Layla. While he is going to the toilet, she disappears. They had been in love, he had asked her to marry him during their holidays in France, now he is desperate to find her. That’s what he tells the police, but it is only part of the story. After some time of mourning, Finn gets closer to Layla’s sister Ellen, strange at first, but it feels right, even though he could never love her in the same way he loved Layla. Shortly after Finn asks Ellen to marry him, strange things start to happen. Ellen believes to have seen Layla, Finn is receiving e-mails seemingly coming from her and they find Russian dolls – something only Ellen and Layla know the significance of. It is impossible that somebody else is playing tricks on them. It must be Layla. But what does she want and is Ellen or Finn actually in danger?
Since I enjoyed “Behind Closed Doors” from B.A. Paris a lot, I was eager to read her latest thriller and again, she did not disappoint me. “Bring me back” is a classic thriller, right from the start you know that you cannot fully trust the characters, they have lied to others before and so they might not tell you the truth either. It keeps you alert, and since you don’t know where the discernible danger is actually coming from, the suspense is slowly rising.
What I liked especially was the construction of the novel. On the one hand, you have the story in the present told by Finn. On the other hand, you have something like secret diary entries which shed a slightly different light on the story told. After some time, Finn is replaced by Layla which gives you another perspective and adds to the suspense. The author deliberately leads to clues which turn out wrong, provides different explanations which cannot stand the tests they are put at, so you wonder throughout the novel what all this is about. It is not easy to find a good solution out of the plot, but for me, it absolutely worked and all was explained in a convincing way.
It is a random and unexpected encounter that brings the student Sigrid and the author she has been admiring for years together. They are mutually attracted immediately and in a café try to get closer without revealing too much of them at first. Trine, however, is ready to reveal a lot as a performance artist who works with her body. But she is struggling with being a mother. Another couple is somehow trying to imitate a film scene which is originally set in Paris but transferred to Copenhagen by the director Linnea. It is just a short glance at their lives, but we see the decisive moment that has to potential to transform everything.
I was eager to read “Wait, Blink” since I usually like the Scandinavian way of telling stories. However, I couldn’t really get into the novel. I assume this is due to the fact that there is not one story, but several quite independent stories are told alternatingly and I was always waiting for the moment in which they connect and form a whole which I didn’t really find.
The scenes about Trine were hardest for me since this character is quite unique and I could hardly follow her thoughts and actions. I liked Linnea and her idea of reproducing “Before Sunrise” – “Before Sunset” in her own life. Sigrid is not really a sympathetic character, but I could link with her thoughts and her struggle to appear as a strong and independent woman while she is actually insecure and afraid of human beings.
Even though the content did not really convince me, I adored Gunnhild Øyehaug’s style of writing. She has found an exceptional tone for her narration and the way of the narrator to talk to you as the reader like he was a good friend and his slightly ironic undertone were great to read. Øyehaug shows what she is capable of and I am looking forward for another novel by her.